The Associated Press___ US economy gets lift from consumers, businesses WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ American consumers are growing more confident about the job market, companies are ordering more equipment and home prices are rising in most major cities. The latest batch of government data suggests that the economy is improving just as the holiday shopping season begins. The only threat is a package of huge spending cuts and tax increases, known as the "fiscal cliff," that will kick in unless Congress strikes a budget deal by year's end. Rising home values, more hiring and lower gas prices pushed consumer confidence in November to the highest level in nearly five years. And steady consumer spending appears to have encouraged businesses to invest more in October after pulling back over the summer. ___ Obama to appeal to public on fiscal cliff WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ President Barack Obama plans to make a public case this week for his strategy for dealing with the looming fiscal cliff, traveling to the Philadelphia suburbs Friday as he pressures Republicans to allow tax increases on the wealthy while extending tax cuts for families earning $250,000 or less. The White House said Tuesday that the president intends to hold a series of events aimed at building support for his approach to avoid across-the-board tax increases and steep spending cuts in defense and domestic programs. Obama will meet with small business owners at the White House on Tuesday and with middle-class families on Wednesday. Obama's strategy is two-fold: Negotiate behind closed doors with Republicans while taking his agenda outside the Beltway only weeks after winning re-election. The president's visit to a small business in Hatfield, Pa., that makes parts for a construction toy company will cap a week of public outreach as the White House and congressional leaders seek a way to avoid the tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.